Reginald Chavez Elementary School was constructed at the current location in the 1950s to address the population of school children in the Old Town area. The school is nestled among the cottonwoods on the fringe of the Bosque, an urban forest along the Rio Grande River. Irrigation ditches and residences that have larger plots of land for farming or livestock are nearby. Metal roofed buildings with steel fences line Mountain Road as one approaches the school. The bike trail passes the school and continues on to the Bosque.
The staff and students refer to their school as “the Bosque” school. The site had several large existing trees that separated the school grounds from the nearby irrigation ditch and walking trail. It also had one large tree among the portable buildings that the students named the “Monkey” tree. It had a wooden monkey hanging on its trunk.
The new classroom addition design tried to preserve as many existing trees as possible and succeeded except for two. One that had to be removed was unfortunately the “Monkey” tree, and an elm near the proposed fire lane. Instead of just cutting them down and removing them from the site, we chose to embrace the idea of the TREE as an important design aesthetic, both 2 dimensionally and 3 dimensionally and carry that through the entire design. The existing school building has a large tile mosaic of a tree at the entry. An image of the “Monkey” tree can be seen in the perforations of the corten steel, creating almost a ghost image of where the tree previously was located. The tree trunks and several large branches were stripped of their bark and sealed so that they could be used as a sculptural element on the interior. One tree in the Library became the backdrop and “support” for the sound canopy of the reading area. It was their “Giving Tree”. The other was used as a focal point for identifying the entry to the restrooms.
The colors of the tree leaves were incorporated into the color scheme of the school, down the corridor and in the classrooms. Spring to fall leaf colors are used to enhance the walls and a tile mosaic was added to the restrooms.
The children love their trees and appreciate that they are still a part of the school. It makes a unique learning environment that also makes for a great conversation piece.